Mastectomy Recovery Time: When Should You Expect To Go Back to Work? | MyBCTeam

Connect with others who understand.

sign up Log in
Resources
About MyBCTeam
Powered By

Mastectomy Recovery Time: When Should You Expect To Go Back to Work?

Medically reviewed by Hailey Pash, APN-BC
Written by Joan Grossman
Posted on July 31, 2023

Figuring out when to go back to work after a mastectomy can be tough. It’s a decision often discussed by MyBCTeam members who are holding down a job while undergoing breast cancer treatment. Members share their experiences and look for guidance from one another.

“I have a mastectomy and reconstruction (expander, implant) surgery next week,” shared one member. “I’m working full time in an office, and my job is quite stressful every day. I’m thinking of taking four weeks off to escape from the stressful work. Would it be too long?”

Another member weighed in: “I had a bilateral mastectomy and no reconstruction. I planned to go back in six weeks but had some tissue necrosis at my incision line on both breasts. Give yourself as much time as you need, and don’t let anyone force you back or make you feel guilty. Treat yourself to the rest. You’re going to need it!”

Each person’s condition is unique, and your health care team is an essential resource to help you determine when you’re ready to make a smooth transition back to work. Here are some topics to keep in mind as you discuss time off work with your doctor, employer, and family.

Mastectomy Recovery Time

A mastectomy is surgery to remove some or all of the breast tissue, often due to breast cancer, to stop the spread of cancer. A mastectomy often includes the removal of one or more lymph nodes in the armpit, which can affect how well you can move and especially arm function. Some people also choose to have breast reconstruction surgery at the same time as their mastectomy, which may make recovery time longer.

The average hospital stay after a mastectomy is one or two nights, though in some cases, it may be appropriate and safe to go home on the day of surgery. After a mastectomy, a temporary drain that consists of a tube connected to a collection bulb is inserted near the surgical site to prevent build-up of fluid that can occur after surgery. Surgical drains are usually removed within two weeks of surgery at a follow-up visit with your doctor once the drainage has slowed down.

What’s the Average Time Off Work?

Many people wonder how much time one should take off work for a mastectomy, but there’s no set answer. Some people are ready to resume their normal activities within about four weeks. However, depending on the type of mastectomy and whether you undergo breast reconstruction, it may take a few months to recover enough to return to regular activities and a full work schedule. On average, most people return to work in three to six weeks,

Factors That May Affect When You Return to Work

The amount of time it will take for you to return to work will depend on several factors, including some of the following.

What Does Your Job Entail?

If your job requires heavy lifting or other kinds of physical exertion, you may need extra time to recover. Your doctor can advise you on recovery time if you perform work that requires more physical strength. “I took nine weeks off, but I’m in a very physically demanding job,” a MyBCTeam member said.

Will You Receive Adjuvant Therapy?

If your mastectomy and treatment plan includes chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery (known as adjuvant therapy), your recovery time may also be longer. One member wrote, “After four months of chemo, double mastectomy one month later, then six weeks of radiation, I took a total of eight months off. But I have great benefits.”

Will You Have Breast Reconstruction Surgery as Well?

If you undergo breast reconstruction at the same time as your mastectomy, your recovery time will likely take longer than if you have just the mastectomy. However, research suggests that your overall recovery time may be lower if you have the two procedures done at the same time, compared to having them done separately. You may also end up using less pain medication and spending less money overall if you have them both at once. Take time to talk to your surgeon in detail about these options.

Planning Ahead for Mastectomy Recovery

Planning for your recovery from mastectomy surgery is crucial in managing the time you’ll need to heal and feel well enough for routine daily activities. It also ensures a smooth return to work. Before you have a mastectomy, your oncology team will provide you with information on how to properly care for your surgical site and arm restrictions after a mastectomy. Make sure you understand the recovery process and have any supplies you may need.

Be sure you and your caregivers understand your medication schedules and how to manage your home care to help ensure that healing goes as well as possible. You’ll likely need to plan ahead for:

  • Caring for your surgery site and wound dressing
  • Managing your drain
  • Bathing and showering
  • Looking out for the potential side effects of a mastectomy, such as signs of infection or lymphedema, and when to call your doctor
  • Knowing when to start using your arm and appropriate arm exercises to regain range of motion in your arm and chest wall
  • Avoiding certain activities (such as heavy lifting) and knowing how long to do so
  • Engaging in healthy activities, such as walking
  • Attending follow-up appointments and adhering to treatment plans after your mastectomy

If you need help with exercises or still have difficulty moving your arm or shoulder four weeks after a mastectomy, talk to your doctor about a referral for physical therapy.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

Along with your physical health, your emotional and mental well-being may be affected by a mastectomy. People who undergo a mastectomy commonly experience depression, anxiety, and fear. Body image can also suffer, causing emotional distress. Managing your mental health is an essential part of your recovery and quality of life after a mastectomy. Feeling strong psychologically is also essential for your return to work.

Research has shown that psychological nursing care can help relieve emotional stress people sometimes experience after a mastectomy. Your health care provider can give you a referral for a mental health professional if you’re feeling anxious or depressed about your mastectomy.

You may want to prepare ahead by getting some psychological counseling before the surgery. After the surgery, you may want to consider mental health counseling by video chat at home while you’re recovering. Psychological counseling may also provide needed support once you go back to work.

Talk to Your Supervisor About Work Flexibility

After a mastectomy, some people start by working part time before returning to full-time work. It can be helpful to talk to your supervisor or human resources administrator well in advance of your mastectomy about potential options for work flexibility. Working part time or working from home is sometimes possible after a mastectomy, depending on your job.

“I worked from home part time after two weeks, but I took four weeks before going into the office,” a MyBCTeam member shared.

If your job is physically demanding, you may want to discuss options for modifying your responsibilities. Reaching out to your workplace supervisor can help you get support. However, you have a right to privacy, and you may want to carefully consider how much medical information you want to share with people at work.

U.S. federal law entitles you to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a serious health condition if you work for a company with 50 or more employees. In addition, your spouse, child, or parent may qualify for leave too if you need their care while recovering. You may also have disability insurance that provides some of your income during your recovery. Your case manager can help you learn more about your benefits.

Find Your Team

MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. On MyBCTeam, more than 64,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.

Have you returned to work after a mastectomy? How much time did you take for your recovery? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on July 31, 2023
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

We'd love to hear from you! Please share your name and email to post and read comments.

You'll also get the latest articles directly to your inbox.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Hailey Pash, APN-BC , a registered nurse and advanced practice nurse, holds a Master of Science in Nursing from the University of South Alabama. Learn more about her here.
Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

Related Articles

If you’re scheduled to have a mastectomy to treat breast cancer, it’s helpful to get a few essent...

5 Things You Need After Mastectomy: Your Pre-Surgery Shopping List

If you’re scheduled to have a mastectomy to treat breast cancer, it’s helpful to get a few essent...
Worrying about a scabbing nipple? After a mastectomy, it can be difficult to know which changes t...

Nipple Scabbing After Mastectomy: 3 Things To Know

Worrying about a scabbing nipple? After a mastectomy, it can be difficult to know which changes t...
Have you ever felt a shocklike sensation out of nowhere in one or both nipples after breast cance...

Electric Shock and 4 Other Nipple Sensations After Breast Cancer Treatment

Have you ever felt a shocklike sensation out of nowhere in one or both nipples after breast cance...
Tissue expanders are like placeholders to prepare you for breast reconstruction after a mastectom...

Body Rejecting Tissue Expanders? 5 Things To Know

Tissue expanders are like placeholders to prepare you for breast reconstruction after a mastectom...
Completing breast surgery is a significant milestone on the path of breast cancer treatment, but ...

Itching After Breast Surgery: Should You Be Worried?

Completing breast surgery is a significant milestone on the path of breast cancer treatment, but ...
If you’ve undergone breast cancer surgery such as a lumpectomy, mastectomy, or lymph node removal...

Rib Pain After Lumpectomy, Mastectomy, or Lymph Node Removal

If you’ve undergone breast cancer surgery such as a lumpectomy, mastectomy, or lymph node removal...

Recent Articles

MyHealthTeam does not provide health services, and if you need help, we’d strongly encourage you ...

Crisis Resources

MyHealthTeam does not provide health services, and if you need help, we’d strongly encourage you ...
Receiving a HER2-positive breast cancer diagnosis can be life-changing. You may wonder how a HER2...

HER2-Positive Breast Cancer Prognosis and Life Expectancy

Receiving a HER2-positive breast cancer diagnosis can be life-changing. You may wonder how a HER2...
Watching for early symptoms of breast cancer — including human epidermal growth factor receptor 2...

6 HER2-Positive Breast Cancer Early Symptoms To Watch For

Watching for early symptoms of breast cancer — including human epidermal growth factor receptor 2...
Meet Becky CarollBecky takes an active role in managing her metastatic breast cancer treatment. S...

MyBCTeam Stories: Real Stories From Real Members

Meet Becky CarollBecky takes an active role in managing her metastatic breast cancer treatment. S...
“When we travel, it gives me something to look forward to.”

Nina’s Tips for Traveling With Metastatic Breast Cancer (VIDEO)

“When we travel, it gives me something to look forward to.”
MyBCTeam member Nina spoke with us about the twists and turns of her treatment journey...

My Treatment Journey With Metastatic Breast Cancer: Nina (VIDEO)

MyBCTeam member Nina spoke with us about the twists and turns of her treatment journey...
MyBCTeam My breast cancer Team

Thank you for subscribing!

Become a member to get even more:

sign up for free

close